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Sunday, November 26, 2017

Long Time Missing

There's a phrase music critics share when news of a musician's death breaks on a major holiday and the writer has to come up with something right then and there for a quick turnaround: a Dead Beatle.

Meaning, this is such a serious loss that whatever you're doing with family and/or friends has to wait. Since no publication I write for demanded something about Tommy Keene when news of his unexpected passing broke on Thanksgiving, I held off on saying something beyond Facebook posts and tweets. But I did stop in my tracks after a long and lovely day with Hope as newlyweds and shared my grief and shock about Tommy's death. He was 59.

Tommy Keene had a long and fruitful career as a solo artist. He came from the Washington D.C. area playing in bands before going solo. His second and third albums, Songs from the Film and Based on Happy Times, were released on Geffen Records in the mid- to late 1980s. At a time when hairsprayed hard rock, teen pop, and the remnants of new wave dominated the mainstream, Keene's music never broke through those barriers. Despite those records sounding more aligned with Bryan Adams' and Cheap Trick's albums at the time, Keene's music had much more depth and immediacy than a lot of other stuff major labels put out.

Keene kept putting out solo records on smaller labels and played as a sideman with the likes of Paul Westerberg and Bob Pollard, among others. Though the records were consistently good to great, he became someone that was taken for granted. He had his fans, but sadly, it looks like the most press he received was after his passing.

If you had never heard his material prior to his death, I made a Spotify playlist of tunes that might make you want to hear his whole catalog.

I've enjoyed Tommy's music for 10+ years now. I can't remember if it was "Places That Are Gone" on a Rhino power pop collection or two MP3s from Ten Years After posted on a friend's blog, but by the time a writer friend of mine, Darryl Smyers, gave me a copy of the Hear You Me retrospective, I went all in. This wasn't power pop meant to resuscitate everything the Beatles did. It was more than that, especially in the power department.

For years, I always hoped to see Tommy play. I heard a Dallas date he played years ago at the Cavern was poorly attended so I didn't think he would come back. When I heard he was coming back through Texas with Matthew Sweet this summer, I decided to go. Sure, it would have been best to see him with a backing band. But if this was all I could possibly get, I decided to go.

Ahead of the show, I got to interview him for an article in the Houston Press. It was a brief but enjoyable chat, talking about where he was at in his career and what he hoped to do next. He put me on the guest list for his show in Dallas at the Kessler and I looked forward to it.

Though the majority of the audience was there for Matthew Sweet, the audience gave Tommy lots of respect and enjoyed his set, which ran all over his catalog. Sweet came on, and as someone who has never really sunk my teeth into his material, I was not motivated to stay until the end. Sweet just stood there and played with his backing band. Not enough excitement for me, so I left.

As I rounded the corner outside of the venue, there was Tommy sitting outside, smoking a cigarette. I introduced myself and he was friendly and conversational. We essentially shot the shit, talking about the tour, sharing pictures of our dogs, and talking about various points in his career. (He confirmed that yes, it was he who played lead guitar on the Goo Goo Dolls' "Broadway.") Who should walk up but my writer friend Darryl Smyers and a friend of his in tow. We all had a nice chat, but after a while, Tommy had to cut loose and join Matthew Sweet for an encore with the band.

At no point in talking with Tommy did he seem bitter about his career. He never became a pop star, but I don't think he wanted to be one. He had the songs, and when you have them, you don't need to be anything more to let them live beyond your life. He had a lot to look forward to, with a new album in the works, a DVD of live footage, and more touring. He didn't act entitled or wanting more recognition. He was happy doing what he was doing, playing and writing music he cared about. This certainly served as a reminder to why people do what they do. And that goes beyond what you think is the best Tommy Keene song or album.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Married

On November 17th, I enjoyed the best day of my life with my soulmate, along with many family and longtime friends surrounding us. Getting married to Hope was the best decision I've ever made, in a life filled with non-decisions and indecisiveness.

In the year prior to meeting Hope, I wasn't sure I'd ever find somebody to spend the rest of my life with. Coming off a short period of friends dying, a relationship falling apart, and playing musical chairs with jobs, I wanted life to get better, not turn into something I settled on.

Despite hearing horror stories about how hook-up culture and dating apps were ruining relationships for everyone, I believed there was someone out there who could see me at my best and worst, tell me what the deal is, and who could inspire me, and vice versa to her. I found that in a fellow podcaster I met through Twitter.

We decided to get married, accepting that neither of us are perfect or without flaws. It took me a long time to understand that I will never be without fault, and no one else is, either. Yes, you can love and be loved even if you make mistakes.

Hope and I complement each other, but thank high heavens we don't complete each other. As much as the "You complete me" might seem cute in movies like Jerry Maguire and Austin Powers, it's not exactly the best thing to hinge a relationship on. Hope has her life with her interests, as I have mine, but we choose to share a life together, through the thick and thin. Whatever happens -- good or bad -- I'm grateful for every single day I have with her.

I was asked by a number of people if I was nervous prior to the wedding. As in, you nervous about getting married? I wasn't. I hoped everything went right with the ceremony and reception, as a lot of planning went into them, especially by Hope and her mother.

Everything did go right, and we had a wonderful time. A sunset wedding, attended by many family and friends. Certain family members I had not seen in a very long time, coupled with friends I have known for almost all of my adult life. The reception was a joyous occasion, set to music that never dragged -- and a first dance done with a new song by singer/songwriter Rahim Quazi that he performed live.

People danced, hugged us, wished us well, and took many pictures. A collection of pictures is up on the blog by the photographers that were hired. We had a wonderful time, I think these pics capture the evening.

Now life is a new journey with Hope. I don't know exactly what tomorrow brings, but I'm incredibly thankful it will be with her. There is a lot of life left to experience. Though relationships are hard and require work to make them last, when you're with the right person, you would not have it any other way.